New restrictions are coming into the Halifax area after Nova Scotia health officials reported 38 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday — the highest single-day total seen since April 23, 2020.
The province now has 111 active cases, which is the most active cases since December. Three Nova Scotians are in hospital.
“Our case numbers are rising too rapidly and there is now community spread within the Halifax Regional Municipality,” said Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin during a news conference Thursday afternoon.
“Make no mistake, there is a lot at stake here.”
Rankin said the following restrictions will be in place as of Friday morning at 8 a.m. in the Halifax area, as well as in the communities of Hubbards, Milford, Lantz, Elmsdale, Enfield, South Uniacke, Ecum Secum and Trafalgar:
- Personal gathering limits will be restricted to five.
- No social events, special events, festivals, arts and culture events, sports events, faith gatherings, wedding receptions or funeral visitation or receptions.
- Wedding and funeral ceremonies hosted by a recognized business or organization can have five people, plus officiants.
- People must avoid non-essential travel in and out of the affected areas.
- No meetings or training except mental health and addictions support groups, which can have 25 people with physical distancing and masks.
- No visitors to long-term care facilities, except designated caregivers.
- The Auburn Drive High family of schools, Cole Harbour District High family of schools, Dartmouth High family of schools, École secondaire Mosaïque, École du Carrefour, and École Bois-Joli must close for two weeks and students will learn from home. Other schools and daycares may remain open.
- Masking will be mandatory in private indoor workplaces and all common areas, places where there is interaction with the public, areas with poor ventilation, and areas where distance can’t be maintained.
- Masking will also extend to all schools from pre-primary to Grade 12 in all regional centres for education across the province.
- Retail stores and malls must operate at 25 per cent capacity.
- Indoor fitness facilities must close, but outdoor fitness and recreation businesses can operate with 25 people and physical distancing.
“We are implementing what is almost a full lockdown and it will be in place for the next four weeks,” said Rankin.
As of this morning, the border from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia is closed to non-essential travel for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Unlike the province’s first lockdown toward the beginning of the pandemic, trails, beaches, parks and playgrounds will remain open. During the news conference, Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, said outdoor activities are allowed as long as gathering limits are followed. He said golf courses and tennis courts may remain open, but any on-site restaurants must close to seated service.
“Recognizing the importance of physical activity for mental and physical health, people can and should get outdoors. We encourage people, families to do that,” he said.
38 new cases
Nova Scotia, which has so far managed to avoid the spike in cases seen elsewhere in the country during the third wave of the pandemic, has reported an uptick in numbers in recent days, with 87 new cases announced since Monday.
Thirty-three of Thursday’s cases are in the province’s central health zone. Two are related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada, two are related to travel outside of Canada, 19 are close contacts of previously reported cases, and 10 are under investigation. Two of those were already identified Wednesday at Bell Park Academic Centre in Lake Echo and Shannon Park Elementary in Dartmouth.
Three cases are in the province’s eastern health zone and are related to travel outside Atlantic Canada, as is the one new case reported in the northern zone.
One new case is in the western zone and is related to travel outside of Canada. All of the travel-related cases are self-isolating, the province said.
One of the new cases is a confirmed case of the U.K. variant related to travel, but it’s unclear which health zone it’s in.
Nova Scotia Health labs completed 5,879 tests on Wednesday.
Over the last few days, the province reported seven schools in the central zone with cases of COVID-19.
An ‘unfortunate gathering’
During the news conference, Dr. Strang said a social gathering involving people from out-of-province triggered an uptick in cases, but there have since been “multiple layers of transmission” that resulted in other cases.
He said it hasn’t been confirmed that the people from out-of-province were infected, but “that’s the likely scenario.” Strang added that some links to the gathering are tenuous.
“But we do know that in a number of our cases, that we can link them back, in all likelihood, to this unfortunate gathering,” he said. “To me, it doesn’t matter how many exactly, we know that that has been a significant driver of a lot of our activity, but not the only driver. There’s other sources as well.”
Strang expects to see case numbers continue to grow in the coming days, and said the province has “significantly ramped up” testing.
“More testing often means more cases identified, and that actually is good news,” he said. “We want to identify cases, isolate them, quarantine their contacts. This is how we help stop the virus in its tracks.”
Strang also extended his thanks to all Nova Scotians who have been following the public heath restrictions and keeping the province “one of the safest places in the world.”
“We have been at this a very long time. I know many people are tired, many are frustrated, and probably all of us are worried, but we cannot be indifferent or complacent,” he said.
“If we don’t take our current situation seriously, it could take a very wrong turn very quickly. We have a chance to reset and get Nova Scotia back on track, just like we have done before.”
Teachers union calls for vaccine priority
The Nova Scotia Teachers Union supports the new masking protocols in schools, but in the wake of the emergence of the third wave and an increase in variants, the union is calling for all teachers and staff to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines.
“I don’t have to look to western Canada and B.C. where things are a raging inferno and New Brunswick right next door,” said Wozney. “They’ve prioritized vaccinating teachers and what we have in common with New Brunswick is a teacher shortage.”
Wozney says it’s time to examine COVID-19 protocols in schools, saying they haven’t been updated since August and a lot has changed since then.
“This is a different fight now than it was three weeks ago,” said Wozney, who says it’s time for the department of education to review all safety protocols, as the variants pose a new and greater risk.
“We’re now dealing with multiple strains of the virus that are far more contagious and are known to be far more transmissible to children,” said Wozney. “The original strain we didn’t worry too much about kids getting it, it was adults, but these new strains they hit kids and they hit them hard.”
Wozney says the time to act is now and bring in protocols to plan for a safe finish to the school year and is just asking for transparency from government and public health.
“People need to know where the measuring stick is,” says Wozney. “Public health has to recognize that families aren’t well positioned to make a dramatic and immediate shift to a very different mode of school.”
— With files from Jesse Thomas